Easier times ahead?

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

Of the three divisions that make up the Eastern Conference, the Atlantic easily is the Least of the East.

None of the five teams have a record over .500, making the Atlantic the only division in the NBA to make such a dubious distinction.

On the surface such mediocrity from their Atlantic rivals should bode well for the Raptors, who won their first divisional game of the season Wednesday, a 114-91 victory over the New York Knicks.

But coach Sam Mitchell is playing down the importance of divisional games.

"It's important," he acknowledged. "But I look at it that at the end of the day, regardless of what your division record is, if you got more wins than the other teams you are going to the playoffs.

"I just look at it like that. I don't try to focus in on whether it's a divisional game or not. To me, the Seattle loss would have been just as big as a loss ( to New York). I don't look at it as being a division or Eastern Conference game."

GROWING PAINS

While rookie Rafael Araujo looked shaky in missing both his field-goal attempts during his 14 minutes against the Knicks Wednesday, Mitchell was quick to come to his defence.

"He has got to learn how to play in the league," Mitchell said. "I can name you eight or nine good centres that struggled their first year.

"Look at (New York's) Nazr Mohammed. No one wanted him his first two years in the league and he had 25 points against us. It just takes time."

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

No one is looking forward to tomorrow's matinee clash against the Knicks in New York mor than guard Rafer Alston, who grew up in the Big Apple and played high school ball at Cardozo in Queen's.

"It's always special going home,"Alston said, adding that he already has been swamped with ticket requests.

"Too many," he said. "I don't know who I will cancel out. Some of them will have to wait until I go to the Meadowlands."


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